Originally announced in 2021, the women’s USL Super League has now confirmed the first group of inaugural markets for its 2024 inaugural season. But that’s not all – the league is now targeting to launch as a first division league, not a second division as originally announced. If they meet USSF sanctioning requirements as intended, this would put the Super League on the top of the women’s pyramid, alongside the National Women’s Soccer League.
The league plans to launch in August 2024 with 10-12 clubs, which would nearly double the number of women’s pro clubs in the USA. The NWSL currently has 12 teams, with two more scheduled to be added in 2024.
As previously announced, the USL Super League will play a traditional Fall-Spring schedule, from August to June. Aligning with the global calendar will avoid conflicts with international breaks, as many women’s players who play professionally in the US also play for their national teams. NWSL has often had issues with losing players to international duty playing through the summer. For example, this year the final three NWSL Challenge Cup group match days will be played during the Women’s World Cup.
Eight USL Super League teams announced
While the league states 10-12 teams will kickoff in 2024, only 8 of those have been announced. The remaining two to four inaugural teams will be announced in the coming months. Five additional markets were also unveiled for future seasons, pending completion of stadium projects.
None of the clubs have been named yet. But most do have a connection to an existing mens organization (in parenthesis if applicable):
- Charlotte, NC
- Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
- Lexington, KY (Lexington SC)
- Phoenix, AZ (Phoenix Rising FC)
- Spokane, WA (Spokane USL1)
- Tampa Bay, FL
- Tucson, AZ (FC Tucson)
- Washington, D.C. (D.C. United)
- Chattanooga, TN (Chattanooga Red Wolves)
- Indianapolis, IN (Indy Eleven)
- Jacksonville, FL (Jacksonville USL Championship)
- Madison, WI (Forward Madison FC)
- Oakland, CA (Oakland Roots/Soul)
All but three of these announced teams have an ownership connection to an existing club. Also, the Tampa Bay ownership features David Laxer, a former co-owner of the modern Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The most interesting inclusion on the list is Washington, DC. The affiliation with DC United of MLS is big, but it’s also the only market where NWSL currently also has a team. The Washington Spirit are a founding member of the NWSL and currently play at Audi Field, home of DCU. NWSL recently announced a team for 2024 in the San Francisco Bay area, which could also give the Oakland USL Super League team local competition.
Of course, there is some overlap at the beginning and end of the seasons, but the USL Super League playing on a different calendar could ease issues with USL/NWSL teams in the same markets.
First division ambitions
The revelation that the Super League intends to be sanctioned as a first division is surprising. With the recently announced WPSL Pro third division set to launch in 2025, this will leave a gap in the women’s pyramid at the D2 level.
The USSF Pro League standards require the following stipulations, among others, for first division sanctioning:
- Minimum of eight teams
- 75% of team markets must have population of 750,000
- Minimum stadium capacity of 5,000
- Controlling owner with 35% stake worth at least $15 million USD
Considering two division one women’s leagues have failed in the 21st century (WUSA and WPS), going the D1 route is a bold move. And it begs the question: is competition rather that cooperation the best thing for the women’s game? For over a century, competition between closed leagues has wreaked havoc on the men’s professional game. And the last time an American soccer league tried for sanctioning as a second coexisting division one league, it didn’t work out so well.
NWSL finds itself coming off recent scandals. Meanwhile USL has a robust amateur league (W League, 65 teams) and girls academy program within its structure. Whether the USL Super League can leverage those resources to overtake the NWSL remains to be seen.
More women’s professional clubs is a good thing for the game in the USA, and in general. And division one resources being invested is even better. But hopefully this expansion of the top tier does not cause disruptions and conflict that could set the game back.
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